Thursday, November 19, 2009

book clubbing in November

I'd been looking forward to our book club meeting this month because I expected that we'd have a good discussion. It seemed like people were falling at all points in the spectrum in their response to this month's selection, Loving Frank: some loving it, some hating it, and some feeling neither here nor there.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

This biographical novel is the story of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, architect Frank Lloyd Wright's longtime mistress. Mamah first met Wright when her husband convinced her to have the architect design a new house for their family. She works closely with Wright during the design and construction of the house, her affair with Wright, however, doesn't begin until three years later. Mamah's feelings for Wright and her dissatisfaction with her staid, married life, compel her to leave her husband and children.

Loving Frank follows Mamah throughout her relationship with Wright, from its genesis, through her years with Wright in Europe and her homemaking at Taliesin in Wisconsin. The novel's ending comes as a complete shock to those unfamiliar with Wright's lifestory (like me).

Loving Frank was indeed a good book club book. It gave us lots to talk about. We discussed:
  • what we did and did not know about Wright before reading the novel,
  • how we felt about the main characters (the majority of us found both Mamah and Wright completely unsympathetic),
  • how much Buffalo featured in the novel (not at all really, only references to Darwin Martin loaning Wright money),
  • who Ellen Key (the Swedish feminist that Mamah befriends) was, what we thought of her beliefs, and what her role was in the story;
  • how much architecture featured in the novel,
  • why Catherine Wright (Frank's first wife) doesn't grant him a divorce,
  • how many times Taliesin burned down and whether Wright should not have taken it as an omen,
  • why the author focused so much on the press coverage of the affair,
  • how we felt about Mamah's choices and why she might have made them,
  • the writing (particularly the pacing, how the author told us things rather than showing them to us, and what we perceived as a lack of romance in the lovestory),
  • the reader (of the audio version), and the abridgment (also of the audio version)
among other things.

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